中文

BIG TAIL ELEPHANTS IN THE 1990S

In 1990, after a decade of development, the city of Guangzhou entered a period of transition, changing from a traditional urban area into a modern city. Many problems emerged here for the first time in a Chinese city. Although never seen before in China, these were very typical problems, including the demolition and relocation caused by the rebuilding of old neighborhoods and the road expansion and new road network development required to resolve traffic congestion. The entire city appeared to be involved in full-scale reconstruction, projecting a strong contrast between the old and the new structures. During the same period, a great number of people from rural areas poured into the city. A rather interesting phenomenon occurred. On the one hand, the city was moving in the direction of an international metropolis. On the other, new villages emerged in certain parts of the city. Rapid business growth occupied an overwhelmingly dominant position on people's agendas. Everyday hard working people traded their spiritual desires for indulgences and debauchery in entertainment venues and newly emerged sex establishments. Everything became money driven; even colleges and universities, where high-minded intellectuals cluster, were no exception. The cultural and artistic communities, which had been affected by Tian'anmen tragedy in 1989, now went into a downcast mood.

 

Within such a social environment, the Big Tail Elephant group was formed. Its initial members included Chen Shaoxiong, Liang Juhui and myself. At a later date, Xu Tan joined in, and Zheng Guogu also worked with the group occasionally. In addition, Chen tong always offered us his support. What we value the most, however, are the many precious photos taken by photographer Zhang Haier, starting from the very early days of the group. In 1994, Hou Hanru cooperated with the Big Tail Elephants for the first time, and named his exhibition No Room. He publish several articles about the Big Tail Elephant group and its members before incorporating the group into this year's Venice Biennale as part of the exhibits under his organizing. Looking back, the Big Tail Elephant group, though comprised of merely four artists, has been a "small room," bringing together people in Guangzhou who share the same ideas and goals. As a group, we often get together in local bars, street food stalls and at Chen Tong's bookstore.

 

The enthusiasm and excitement shared among us has generated an infinite amount of energy, which has translated into consecutive exhibitions by Big Tail Elephants. For nearly a decade, since 1991, we have organized an exhibition or event almost every year. Most exhibitions have been held in Guangzhou. Although each artist focuses on different issues and employs a different artistic approach, we clearly draw our energy from the city of Guangzhou. In this relatively open-minded town, situated in southern China where new ideas seem easy to root, our view is open-ended. While taking heed of the local urban development, we also watch the evolution of Western art. In fact, we have used a few Western contemporary art forms to address many of the issues we have encountered. This is a plight that intellectuals in Third World countries face under globalization. Our objective goes beyond this, however. Inspired by a greater ambition, we acquire to break through the boundaries in artistic languages between Eastern and Western art. At its inception, the Big Tail Elephant group did not make any position or guideline statements. It is rather an open space, where artists have opportunities to make their own statements as independent individuals. It is also a self-reliant space. Each artist has found his own way of expression in over ten years of pursuit.

 

We began employing installation and performance art forms since the first Big Tail Elephant exhibition. Subsequently, we have gradually waded into video, graphic, multimedia and network art. Throughout the entire 1990s, art forms were constantly evolving as China developed. Working in an in an unshaped art system, artists could choose, at free will, different directions to pursue, until they found their own artistic language. However, on one hand, artworks created outside a system do not have the needed exposure to an audience. In most cases, they are displayed only once with a very limited number of viewers. The Big Tail Elephant group has faced the same problem as well. We have had to showcase our work at any site that was accessible and available to us in the city.

 

Experimenting with various media has been an effective way to interact with those sites. As these creative forms intimately relate to our everyday lives, what we have experienced is not simply an exploration in art media or form. Compared with Western-trained artists, we have skipped over the classroom training in the new media. This explains why we, in our application of these media, identify the context of artistic language manifested in Chinese contemporary art. In this shaking-up and cutting-apart period, Chinese contemporary art has been neither a logical product Western art evolution, nor a continuation of its indigenous culture. It appeared as a nondescript monster, which, like present day cities in China, abruptly came into existence. Driven by the insane and irrational consumerism and hedonism permeating China's cities, people have been continuously in a state of unaccountable enjoyment, utter ignorance of the future and an excitement aroused by fierce competition. Within such a scenario, the Big Tail Elephant's art, covering urban issues such as urban development, consumerism, traffic, population and sex culture, is inevitably imprinted with marks of the times. Its artistic language seems unlikely to be pure, but rather whimsical or even straying.

 

Like other Chinese artists, the Big Tail Elephants are striving to establish their own context, while being brought into the official movement in China or into the Western system. The transition from underground to onstage is represented by frequent invitation to showcase at domestic and international biennales of different sizes. To Chinese artists, this change in situation poses an even greater challenge, which involves seduction by commercial interests and the re-expansion issues across a wider span than our predecessors did in any other historical period. To repeat a cliche, what we are presented with is both an opportunity and a challenge.

 

(Yishu, june 2003, summer issue, P.22-23)